One of my dear friends, C, who is also a SAHM, and I have often bemoaned our lack of adult time. Have you shaved your legs recently? Hilarious- surely you jest. When was the last time you styled your hair? What, a ponytail isn't a great coif!? Exercise, laundry, cooking, dog-walking, etc... Today, however, karmic forces conspired to enable us to be...Ladies Who Lunch. My boys were at camp, her girls were with a sitter because C had dedicated this morning to personal maintenance (dentist, that sort of exciting thing), and we were able to squeeze in one hour at a real restaurant. I wore heels, she donned a dress. We both seemed to feel almost elicit in taking ourselves out in the middle of the day.
As you might know, this week has been my maiden voyage into a new phase of life. From here on out, I can count on (most days), about six hours of alone-time during which I can actually do things like read, peruse the Container Store, go to lunch. She is almost there; the end of her tunnel is early September. And so today, we celebrated a little bit by going to Range, a Bryan Voltaggio restaurant that opened in Chevy Chase last December. Neither of us had been (her husband refuses because Range is in a mall; I kind of understand this), and though it's meat-heavy and C is a veg, we liked the look of the vegetarian menu options and so gave it a go.
Overall, we were pleased. The service was the best sort of friendly hands-off: no hovering, no pretension, no rushing. The menu is segmented into nine or ten sections including wood oven, wood grill, salumeria, raw bar, cold kitchen and accompaniments, and by and large, the plates are small-to-medium sized and easy to share. As C and I have similar taste, we ordered five veggie dishes from across the menu, and I was happy to get to sample more of Voltaggio's fare than I would have otherwise. I found two dishes to be excellent, one to be very good, one to be average and the final was just plain bad.
In order of best -> least good, here goes:
The goat cheese seamless ravioli, usually served with a meat ragu though we opted for pesto instead: Oh, the puffy orbs that were the three ravioli! The pasta was so tender and thin, the cheese filling not remotely heavy. The pesto was superbly rendered, and I was glad to have blank-slate pizza crusts (see next item) left over for sopping up the green goodness. I definitely recommend this dish, including our pesto sub as I think the meat ragu would tilt this towards the heavy end of the spectrum and overshadow each raviolo's delicacy.
The preserved tomato, mozzarella and basil pizza: Solid pizza with a just-the-right-gumminess crust, great tomato sauce and flavorful mozzarella. It needed a few more basil leaves, but overall, an excellent, wood oven pie!
The roasted beet salad with coffee soil: In some ways your standard beet salad -shaved raw circles, roasted wedges- but with a kick from a coffee/cardamom sprinkle, some mounds of whipped goat cheese fluff and small pools of basil sauce. This wasn't off the charts but it was fresh and pleasing and a great counterpoint to our other dishes, all of which were served warm.
The cheddar-jalapeño biscuits with pepper jelly: Though these biscuits were wonderfully light (making non-dense biscuits is a feat!), I wished the baker had used a slightly heavier hand with the cheddar and the pepper jelly was too much pepper, not enough sweet. Biscuits and pepper jelly are an awesome Southern treat but you need to offset the heat with sweet for optimal flavor balance; these missed to some extent, and I don't think I'd order them again. I mean, how often do you leave a biscuit in the basket?
The cauliflower with golden raisins, za'atar and almonds: Unfortunately, this just looked and tasted ugly. C said, "it tastes dirty." The za'atar contained WAY too much oregano, and neither of us ate more than a bite. Ugh.
Last but not least, the bathrooms. Range is big and the bathrooms are way in the back. Ok but once you arrive, they are fairly indecipherable. Do you push the clear glass door open? Slide it? Is it automatic? You slide it but it took me a silly amount of time to figure that out. Once in, you are faced with five doors and while I like having multiple stalls, you have to look really closely at the handles to see which are locked. The bathroom is a bit dim, and I felt a bit voyeuristic leaning so close to the doors to see which were available. And then there are the soap dispensers. There is no pull tab or push button, so I held my hand underneath, assuming it was operated via motion-sensor. No dice. You have to push you hand up which is not at all clear, and then the faucet does turn on automatically. I felt like I was lost in a Jetson's bathroom and was happy to leave.
Overall, Range is solid, and I'd happily return. But I wouldn't get the cauliflower and I would give my dining companions serious pointers about the bathrooms before they headed their way.